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Keywords:

  • alligator femur;
  • bone adaptation;
  • bone morphogenesis;
  • bone strain;
  • collagen fibre orientation;
  • vascular canal orientation

Abstract

Histological analysis of a growth series of alligator femora tests the correlation between strain milieu and microstructure. From mid-diaphyseal cross-sections of these femora (n = 7), vascular canal orientation and density as well as collagen fibre organization were recorded. Throughout ontogeny, the proportion of transverse–spiral (TS) collagen in the dorsal cortex is significantly greater than it is in the ventral cortex (P = 0.008). This regional difference in the proportion of TS collagen is correlated with a regional difference in the state of peak principal strain (compressive or tensile). Nevertheless, the predominant orientation of collagen fibres is longitudinal, which is inconsistent with biomechanical hypotheses that involve peak principal or shear strains. Although the density and orientation of vascular canals do not show significant regional differences (P = 0.26 and P = 0.26, respectively), as with collagen orientation, the vascular canal orientation is predominantly longitudinal. The longitudinal organization of both the vascular canals and the collagen fibres is probably a consequence of longitudinal shifting of subperiosteal osteoid during femoral lengthening. When taken together, these data suggest that growth dynamics is the dominant influence on the histological organization of primary bony tissues in alligator femora.